There is unfortunately a lot less information about pancreatic cancer available compared to other types of cancer. In fact, pancreatic cancer is the third deadliest type of cancer in America as of 2018, but there are no guidelines or standards when it comes to screening because it is so tough to diagnose. This November, In honor of Pancreatic Awareness Month, learn more about pancreatic cancer, its prevention, and if you or a loved one may be at risk.
Facts and Figures
The only cancers currently more deadly than pancreatic cancer are lung cancer and colorectal cancer. Pancreatic cancer is typically first diagnosed in roughly 50,000 Americans a year, and approximately 40,000 die from the disease every year. The startling fact about pancreatic cancer concerns its low survival rate. Approximately 85 percent of patients who are diagnosed can expect to live eight months or less, and only about 7 percent have a five-year life expectancy rate.
Pancreatic cancer is so particularly deadly in part because there is no one test or screening to determine if a patient is at risk. Because of this, cancer often forms undetected in the pancreas, showing no real signs or symptoms until it is too late. Because of its location in the body, the pancreas is tough for doctors to test; therefore, physicians are wary to perform invasive tests unless a patient is already proven to be at a high risk.
Because pancreatic cancer is not well understood by doctors and researchers, it is also difficult for doctors to determine risk factors as well. Some researchers have pinpointed a connection between certain genetic mutations in DNA and pancreatic cancer. However, a patient would still need to undergo genetic counseling and testing to see if they have the mutation and are indeed at risk. For those with a family history of cancer, particularly pancreatic cancer, it is often a recommendation.
In general, researchers have also correlated pancreatic cancer with certain other risk factors, such as heavy alcoholic drinking, smoking, obesity, and diet. Certain races and ethnicities are also at risk, in addition to those with new-onset diabetes. Patients are, in general, advised to quit smoking if they are a smoker, limit alcohol consumption, and maintain a healthy weight.
Signs and Symptoms
Another hard fact when it comes to pancreatic cancer is the symptoms don’t often appear until the disease has already progressed. If pancreatic cancer is caught in the first states, outlook is better; however, with few screening options, this is not often the case. Pancreatic cancer as it progresses is most often associated with jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes. This symptom may also present with dark urine, gastroenterological problems such as nausea, vomiting, belly pain, weight loss, and new-onset diabetes. Patients are advised to visit their physician immediately if they experience jaundice or any other related symptoms.
What Patients Can Do
To promote awareness of pancreatic cancer during November and all of the months of the year, talk to associates and share your story about how pancreatic cancer has affected you or your family. Purple is the official color for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Another good way to promote awareness is to speak to your doctor or pharmacist about pancreatic cancer history in your immediate family. Find out more about genetic counseling and testing, and whether you may be a good candidate. If this type of cancer is caught in its earliest stages, it improves the odds of survival. Also, those who carry the gene mutation can have their pancreas regularly checked to ensure that it is healthy. To learn more about cancer, pancreatic cancer, genetic counseling, or screening, make an appointment today with Dr. Sameer Islam. Dr. Islam can also help you lower your risk factors for pancreatic cancer, with several different weight loss and healthy eating options.